WASHINGTON-Supporters and opponents of asphalt rubber clashed at Congressional hearings March 1 and 3 over whether federal mandates for asphalt rubber use should be repealed. One group reiterated its arguments that rubberized asphalt is an expensive, unproven product. The other insisted the case against asphalt rubber relies on erroneous or outdated information, and that the product will substantially improve U.S. roads as well as help solve the nation's scrap tire problem.
The hearings were held before the House Surface Transportation Subcommittee in conjunction with a Clinton administration proposal to designate some 159,000 miles of U.S. highways as the National Highway System. The proposal entails dozens of ancillary issues, ranging from state highway projects to motorcycle helmet laws.
Of all these issues, the most controversial is Section 1038 of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991. That section requires the states to use an ever increasing percentage of asphalt rubber in federally funded highway projects, starting with 5 percent this year and going up to 20 percent in 1997.
Smarting under the mandate, state highway officials and conventional asphalt makers persuaded Congress to pass a provision in 1994 appropriations for the Transportation Department, forbidding the Federal Highway Administration from using its funds to implement or enforce Section 1038.
This provision is also included in the President's budget for fiscal year 1995, and several witnesses at the National Highway System hearings argued for the repeal or modification of Section 1038.
``Section 1038 is unprecedented in mandating the use of a specific product in the highway program with so little knowledge about the product itself or the consequences of its use,'' said Albert E. DeAtley, chairman of the National Asphalt Pavement Association.
He and other March 3 witnesses referred to a September 1993 survey of state highway administrators, performed by the American Association of State Highway and Transit Officials. According to the AASHTO study, crumb rubber modified hot mix asphalt cost an average of 67 percent more in 1993 than conventional hot mix.
The engineering properties, recyclability, and health and environmental effects of asphalt rubber also are little known, according to Mr. DeAtley.
``The mandated use of the product without such knowledge will result in premature failures and wasted dollars,'' he said. ``We can ill afford such setbacks in these times where highway improvements are sorely needed.''
But Gordon P. MacDougall, executive director of the Rubber Pavements Association, called into question all of Mr. DeAtley's as sertions.
Mr. MacDougall called the AASHTO survey ``fatally flawed'' because it does not calculate various cost factors in asphalt rubber's favor.
Among these factors are life-cycle cost savings, savings from alternative designs using asphalt rubber, increased competition, economies of scale and the expiration of several primary asphalt rubber patents late in 1992.
Claims that rubberized asphalt is an unproven technology are similarly weak, Mr. MacDougall said, noting the product was developed in the mid-1960s, and since then more than 30 states-especially Arizona, California and Florida-have used it routinely.
``Extensive experience has shown that asphalt rubber makes longer lasting, lower maintenance roads,'' he said. As for claims that asphalt rubber is neither recyclable nor environmentally safe, ``we have challenged our critics to produce such evidence. They have not done so.''
Several witnesses urged the subcommittee to modify Section 1038 to allow state highway officials to consider civil engineering uses for scrap tires as well as asphalt rubber. But Doug Howell, energy associate with the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, said this would be a mistake.
``If you allow civil engineering uses for scrap tires, the tires would most likely be sent to high-tech landfills,'' he said. ``The beauty of Section 1038 is that it mandates the use of a scrap tire recycling technology that actually improves the quality of roads.''
Reducing the penalties for non-compliance with Section 1038 could speed its acceptance among state highway officials, Mr. Howell said. ``If a state misses its goals by 1 percent, cut its funds by 1 percent, not 50 percent,'' he proposed.
The most important thing, however, is for the federal government to conduct an aggressive technology transfer program to educate states in asphalt rubber. ``So many of the problems cited by the opposition are really technology transfer problems,'' Mr. Howell said.